Commentary: Supreme Court Decision in Immigration Case Is Disappointing

The court left intact the most egregious section of Arizona’s controversial law, inviting a stop-and-frisk culture.

Posted: 06/26/2012 04:40 PM EDT
Arizona-style stop-and-frisk still stands after Supreme Court ruling.

For most progressive-minded Americans, not to mention Latinos in the Southwest, the recent Supreme Court decision about Arizona’s draconian immigration law was highly disappointing.

Although the justices determined that three portions of Arizona's controversial immigration law were unconstitutional, justices nonetheless allowed one of the most divisive provisions, which allows Arizona’s state and local police to check the immigration status of people they stop if a "reasonable suspicion" exists that the person is in the country illegally.

In a complicated and nuanced opinion, the court ruled that the state of Arizona had overstepped its authority by making it a state crime to target illegal immigrants. The justices also struck down a provision that made it a state crime for illegal immigrants not to carry registration papers and another which made it a crime for soliciting work. The third portion of the law struck down allowed state and local police to arrest illegal immigrants without a warrant in some cases.

Nonetheless, the decision not to overturn the most egregious portion of the law is nothing more than a license for an Arizona-style stop-and-frisk shindig. And it carried potentially dire consequences for many residents, who may well face deportation. It is a disastrous piece of legislation that has the potential of making Latinos the subject of racial profiling and invoking fear in a large segment of the population of that state.

President Obama said it succinctly: “I remain concerned about the practical impact of the remaining provision of the Arizona law that requires local law enforcement officials to check the immigration status of anyone they even suspect to be here illegally.”

He continued, “I agree with the Court that individuals cannot be detained solely to verify their immigration status. No American should ever live under a cloud of suspicion just because of what they look like.”

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who is making an art form out of her contempt for President Obama, has called the court decision a victory because it enables police officers to determine the immigration status of anyone they stop if there is a “reasonable suspicion” the person is an illegal immigrant.

The silver lining — to the extent there is one — is that the decision will cause states to think twice before trying to emulate Arizona’s immigration laws. It also signals that civil rights and civil liberties groups will remain vigilant of any movement to expand such laws to other states will be met with strong opposition.

As Anthony D, Romero, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said: “If state governments enact new immigration bills, we say bring it on, we will see them in court.”

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(Photo: Andrew Innerarity/Reuters)